“Stretching keeps the muscles flexible, strong, and healthy, and we need that flexibility to maintain a range of motion in the joints”. Harvard health publishing” (1)
Stretching is a type of physical exercise, that involves the skeletal muscles.
For today, we will give you a nice stretching exercise called “The scorpion exercise”, but before that, let’s briefly go over stretching.
What stretching is, is essentially a pressure placed upon the musculature and its tendons with one sole purpose- Increasing the distance between both attaching points (stretching the muscle).
Stretching does not only lengthen the muscles, but also their tendons, nerves and other tissues.
This type of exercising is mainly linked to improving the range of motion of a given joint.
Another goal with stretching is improving muscle elasticity and lengthening the muscle fibers, as well as overall improvements in muscle tone.
Stretching should not be considered synonym for yoga.
Yes, yoga involves stretching in practice, but the two are distinctly different.
Stretching, done to improve elasticity and flexibility of the musculature is also not a warm up, which is a common misconception.
It is a good thing to know that a proper warm up should prepare the body for the following physical activities, while stretching has totally different goals and end results.
A proper warm up would increase body temperature, blood flow and oxygen supply.
That is to say that a good warm up would be, for example a light jog or rope jumping.
If you do your warm up properly, you will prevent injuries and improve your levels of performance, overall.
Whether you’re about to do a bodyweight workout, a sprint workout, a stretching workout, or a resistance workout, a good warm up is a must.
DO NOT stretch without warming up, especially if you’re in a cold environment.
Science of stretching
Our biomechanics are under our conscious control. So, if you want to straighten your leg, you first send a signal to your thigh muscles, which flexes, while its antagonist, the hamstrings, relax.
This complex chain of events produces the end result of as we called it, “straightening the leg”.
It is also called the ‘stretching reflex’, which is a mechanism that protects the joints from injuries.
The joint, muscle and tendon receptors track the movement which then translates to a central nervous system signal, which regulates the contractile ability of the muscle.
Then, that affects the range of motion of the given joint and the conscious movements cause unconscious reactions in the organism.
Moving the body to a certain position results in a chain of complex events of physiological and biomechanical nature. So, it’s not just as simple as “straightening your leg”.
Pretty cool, huh?
Now let’s get to the exercise.
The scorpion exercise
This exercise actually has two variations
This is a perfect exercise to stretch the quadriceps. It also improves hip mobility and greatly engages the abdominal muscles. The exercise also increases overall flexibility and strength of the body.
Lie face down on the mat or the floor, and extend your arms to the sides, perpendicular to the body.
Get your feet together and straighten your body. In this starting position, your arms, torso and legs are tightly on the floor.
Curl one of your legs up to a 90-degree angle. Twist the torso through the waist line, so that your toes go to the outer side of your opposite leg.
Go as far as you are feeling comfortable.
Eventually, you should be able to twist so much that your toes are touching the floor, right below your arm.
Hold the stretch briefly, then return slowly to the initial position and proceed to the opposite side, with no rest whatsoever.
Recommended set and rep range- 3 sets of 8-15 repetitions per leg
This is in fact a yoga pose, which by many is considered to be one of the best poses.
It is advanced, as it involves supporting your whole body weight on your forearms and tensing your muscles, while transferring most of your body weight over your head.
Note, this is a hard exercise, but as you practice it and get stronger, you will naturally develop muscle tone, balance and elasticity.
Get into a plank position with your elbows on the ground and legs extended. Upper arms must be at a 90-degree angle.
If this is hard for you, first develop strength and endurance on this exercise and then move on.
Once you have a stable plank and a nice, tight core, start developing that arm strength and stability.
To do that, extend your arms fully (supporting weight on the ground), while lifting your hips higher and extending one leg up, hold and then do it with the opposite leg.
Now that you’ve developed some strength, you can try the scorpion pose.
Get in a plank position, a couple feet away from a wall.
Push with your legs up and let your legs curl up, so that your feet are directly above your head.
Use the wall as a support.
Once you feel balanced, do it in a free-space spot, with no wall support and focus on increasing your endurance during the pose.
So, there you have it! Stretching is not a synonym for yoga, but the scorpion exercise can be seen in both means of physical activity.
Do each one with a proper warm up and precaution, especially the second one, as it is one of the hardest poses in yoga. Enjoy!